Lady Power

As I’m contemplating what it means to dominate someone, I look around at the phenomenal women I work with, and begin to have some idea. What does it take to do something the majority of society frowns upon and/or views as compromising and immoral? It takes a thick skin and a sense of confidence that comes from within, not without. Translation: strength that nobody can take away.

I’ve been looking for inspiration to stop looking to others for permission–I need to trust my instincts and finish projects, find ways to fuel my confidence and waken the muse on my own. H was talking to me about needing more than ideas, needing actions, or rather he said “brain cells are great, but you need other kinds of cells too.” He said, “Why haven’t you published a book yet?” I said “Do you know how many rejections I’ve gotten? It’s not for lack of trying.” “If nobody wants to publish it, why haven’t you published one yourself?”

This is a tough question. I actually have the opportunity to self-publish books, should I finish one that I can fully get behind. A mentor from the southern school I attended offered to publish whatever I send him under his imprint; I just have to finish something. When h talks about it, though, he means actually making the books by hand, which sounds like a lovely, engaging task. It has me wanting to revisit my thesis, find things worth taking.

I think I have much to learn from my new job. Clearly I need to continue examining my beliefs. Figuring out which of my inhibitions come from wisdom and which from fear. It all comes down to: what brings me pleasure without hurting others, and how can I be good to others? And often the two overlap.

Being with c and h, and having such an amazing group of friends and allies, like my a’s in the city, and my erstwhile neighbors, m and my new york lovelies, and now my dom ladies, is helping me find the courage to believe that I have something worth saying, and the capacity to communicate it well.

On my last shift, one of the mistresses and I beat a thin, silver-haired man with various implements, including a wooden spoon, a leather flogger, a rattan cane, a heart-shaped paddle, and something called a “dragon-tail” whip.

“If you hit one area repeatedly with the cane,” she told me, “it bruises up re-a-ally nicely. Especially if you follow up with something flat, like the paddle.”

We tested her hypothesis, raising a be-a-autiful dark red welt all down his thigh to go with the various little streaks and marks on his ass and back. He yelped and twitched, which prompted me to stop but my mistress continued, saying, “You know your safe words, don’t you?” “Yes,” he would whimper. In other words: keep going. He whimpered “yellow” only three times (“are you showing off for Mistress Joycebird?” the mistress asked, to which our “slave” answered “maybe a little, mistress”) and I repeatedly admired how well he was taking it. It confused me at first that sometimes they want verbal humiliation and sometimes they don’t; “Does baby like that?” I cooed once, looking up to see the session mistress shaking her head and frowning slightly. “No one cares what baby likes, here,” she said. “Baby does what mommy says. Isn’t that right, baby?”

H made an offhand comment the other day about people who are attracted to BDSM being, on the whole, a bit messed up. I think seeing the BDSM cage at Burning Man was the first time I decided to get rid of the last vestiges of that kind of belief; but coming in to the business I had done no real work to prepare myself for the lingering associations my brain has with certain images, with certain prejudices. Now when I spoke up to defend our clients and the community as a whole, I spoke with confidence–“that’s a common misconception,” I told him. “Actually people want to be dominated for a range of reasons. It’s easy to write them off as freaks or something, but most people have at least one propensity or another that could be categorized as ‘abnormal.'”

Same goes for sex workers–it’s easy to make snap judgments about the motivation and the mindset of women who work in the adult industry, but there are as many stories as there are women, and most of them aren’t the stereotypical sob story you might expect–or if they began that way, the fairytale ending didn’t involve some dramatic renouncement of their career, but typically a partner as supportive of their career as they are of the other choices they make in pursuit of their own happiness.

I know some will scoff at this comparison, but hear me out: just as many of the classic male authors of the past century (think Hemingway, Faulkner and Salinger) illuminate the trenches of war, just as they tread the boundaries of what violence modern humanity may openly indulge in and return to tell the tale, powerful female authors often march at the front lines of sexual empowerment, another edge of human existence, and return with a great desire for peace, a great striving to reconcile the spiritual and the physical (think Plath, Chopin, Woolf). Just as we’re gradually coming around to valuing each human life because we recognize that we are essentially all the same and thus what benefits one of us benefits all of us (though there are still plenty of holdouts for staunch, I’ll-take-care-of-mine, you-go-fuck-yourself individualism), seeing each human’s sexuality as a precious and highly personal aspect of themselves will be a huge step in our collective empathy, and we’ll all have the dignity and openness to be indulgent towards our own and one another’s eccentricities, sexual or otherwise.

The fewer people we can write off, or rather, the fewer reasons we allow ourselves to stop prioritizing the humanity of another over lesser concerns (such as being right or getting your way), the better. If everyone operates by demonizing people whose lifestyles they can’t understand, and defending the people who are ideologically similar to them from the consequences of their misdeeds, that leads to a pretty large sector of society actively aiding and abetting the corrupt while condemning each other for the same exact thing–leaving the friendless and powerless to bear the brunt of all of society’s sins and mistakes.

It’s not midnight yet, so technically I’ve kept my promise, but we both know I didn’t mean “by midnight” when I said I would post on Tuesday and Friday. Internet, I’ll do better next week.

To confidence!

 

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Judgment and Compassion

My dear readers, I have decided to be more regular with my posting. I’m going to put up a new post every Tuesday and Friday. It won’t always be novel-length, but I’m going to do it. So.

I sat down to write about the big news (duh duh duh DUH) but I’ve just chatted with m and had a few more pleasant memories that I wanted to share. I know I did mention the park noises waking me each morning, but I didn’t mention that his bed is right at the window that looks out past a fire escape to the park, and that it’s ridiculously lovely to sit at the window, smoking a joint and looking at the people down below. Some of my favorite moments entailed sitting at that window with m, and twice with m and a, thinking about how strange it is that your life can be so completely changed by an experience but then you have to go on operating as usual. At Burning Man I thought I could live my life without really caring about money ever again, and now here am I stressed out of my mind about it. Ugh.

One of the moments I was looking forward to most was the night tour of the museum. M has an in with one of the excellent museums in the city, and thus we were able to explore after-hours, a real treat.

It was our last night together and we were both a bit meditative. M was tired from his day of teaching and I was a little disappointed that we weren’t shrooming as we had originally planned (have I written about shrooming yet? hands down my favorite kind of trip) and we were both facing down another goodbye. Somehow we had gotten into yet another discussion about mortality.

I can’t remember exactly how he said it, but m had somehow ventured forth the suggestion that there is no grand meaning or design, and I told him about the night that I had settled, first out of self pity and anger, then out of rationality, to commit suicide, the night I decided that every single grand emotion and sentiment and etc. is just an outcropping of a creature evolved to be capable of reason attempting to justify its own obsession with survival. “I’ve already faced down the very likely possibility that there is no meaning,” I told him. “I came to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter, in practical terms. We’re going to keep creating meaning for ourselves individually anyway.” I focus more now on maintaining a ‘meaning’ that’s responsive to evidence, one which enhances my experience in the world and allows me to be as good as possible to others.

But when I said that, m gave me the most wonderfully sympathetic look, the warmest hug, and it was such a dear moment, I don’t quite know how to describe it or what to do about it. Yes, I too, have faced down meaninglessness.

Okay. And now to the latest.

I think most women, or at least most women who were raised in a very pro-dominant-narrative environment, have this understanding with themselves that, once you cross the line you’ve CROSSED THE LINE.

The line is getting paid money to engage in intimate acts with another.

I’m in training to be a dominatrix.

I saw an ad on craigslist, it sounded like a good way to make reasonable money off a part time job, and I’m sort of fascinated with the BDSM community, and also I can justify almost anything as experience that will help me as a writer.

To be quite honest, I was feeling sort of icky and irreversible for a while after my first day. This was on the drive home, which was long and frustrating, but it gave me lots of time to process these feelings. I considered where the sense of shame was coming from. From the idea that only desperate women, or drug addicts, or women that couldn’t hold any other sort of work, would do this kind of work.

It isn’t entirely untrue. Of the many interesting, lovely women I met, it seemed about fifty/fifty, women who got into the trade because they didn’t really see another option vs. women who had some other reason (they wanted to explore their creativity/sexuality, they wanted to be stronger in certain ways). Truth be told, I’m a little of both. I *could* do many other things, but I chose this. If I stay with it, it certainly won’t be for the money. Ultimately it doesn’t seem to pay more than any other shit job.

I thought I was pretty much over the idea that sex is somehow shameful, but I’m not, quite–or at least not the idea that professionalizing sex is shameful (the one thing Republicans DON’T want to privatize, ironically), or that there’s something inherently wrong with ascribing it monetary value. Ultimately, since Burning Man, I now think money is always a perversion of purer human interactions. I think treating sex as some entirely different realm is ridiculous and puritanical.

In an ideal world, all of our exchanges would come from a place of generously and willingly giving to one another, and people would be able to get their sexual fantasies, like all other needs and desires, fulfilled by interacting honestly, fearlessly, and lovingly with those around them.

Even so, it does feel significant that I am no longer able to say I have never accepted cash for sexual favors. I’ve only “sat in” on sessions, but that entails a certain amount of participation. I don’t officially get paid yet, so when I spat in an Asian man’s mouth and laughed at how small his penis was I didn’t get paid for that, and when I let a giant hairy man on a leash lick my feet, that was entirely pro bono, and when I stuck my fingers in “Baby”s ass while he crouched on his hands and knees with his face in the pillow, that was for free too. But I did get tipped by the white-haired man whose nipples I tortured with clothespins, whose ass I flogged inexpertly, whose asshole, again, I played with (this is apparently one of the most frequent things you do as a dom), at the behest of the mistress in charge of that session. So. Line = crossed. No going back.

Which means, what? I can now be written off as a respectable person? As a person of value? I was driving home in terrible bay traffic, feeling sort of self-pitying and, I don’t know, victim-like as I contemplated these things, when I realized that the part of me that fears that judgment (as per usual) is also the part of me making that judgment. Somewhere in my head I was pitying, or mentally ranking myself above, or otherwise comparing myself to the other women I met at the dungeon (for the uninitiated, this is what they call the site of BDSM encounters).

I’m learning to stop turning inwards with feelings of inferiority, to start turning that feeling outwards to see how I can use it to have more compassion for others, to stop judging, to be more whole and healthy. I don’t think I’ll be able to truly love others as I love myself until I rid my heart of all prejudices towards the various choices people make.

People do what they think will help them survive. Period. We’re all driven by survival. We align ourselves with different philosophies and companions with the ultimate goal of existing in the most pleasant and beneficial way we can. Maybe we’re wrong about what we think we need for survival. Maybe we’re wrong about what we think will make us happy. But other than that, there is nothing inherently right or wrong about making one choice over another.

More and more, especially as I venture down paths I never thought I’d tread, I’m convinced that I will never truly love others until I abandon the assumption that I’m better than others for my choice of path. Just as my choice of path is influenced by my experiences and encounters, and the same goes for the people around me. I should no more judge the actions of my fellow humans than I judge water for running downhill, the sun for burning my skin, a hurricane for killing hundreds.

My goal is to continue working towards a world where my own survival and happiness are ensured because everyone’s survival and happiness are considered important and looked after, while shedding more and more of my sense of self-importance for choosing to embrace this worldview, or my sense that others are foolish or evil for not seeing that this is the best way to live.

Out of the Ordinary

I really want to catch up on everything that’s happened while I haven’t been writing this blog, but there’s just no time, and of course life continues to happen in the meantime, so I’ll try and sum it up without selling some really interesting events short.

Back to M, and our time together. I’ve been missing him quite a bit. We haven’t even talked much of late, as my life has been hectic and my internet connection sketchy. We did a whole slew of quite lovely things while I visited: went to Zucker’s bakery, where we had avocado toast and peppermint tea, and date and halva roses. Picnicked in the park, explored tucked away community gardens, ate pastrami, pizza, and bagels. Visited Strand Bookstore, where I first tried to find c Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, which is just an excellent collection, and then I thought I might find a copy of a literary journal with one of my stories. They had some issues of PANK, but not the right one.

Other highlights: A visit to Evolution, a nature/science curiosity shop with the likes of exotic mounted insects, actual and replica skulls and skeletons of humans and other animals, preserved specimens in jars, suspended in amber or some other clear substance. Fossils.

The Dirt Room, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. There’s still a little part of me that wishes I’d done as I deeply wanted to and stepped over the plastic wall into the dirt, left my footprints there to be raked away again the next day.

A wonderfully strange moment with a performance artist in the subway who piloted a baby doll with its head on his middle finger, hands on his pointer and ring finger, and feet on his thumb and pinky, up m’s leg and torso to his forehead, where creepy puppet doll (playing a hypnotic dirge on a harmonic throughout) humped to a dramatic climax, whilst m giggled, turning very red, face squinched in good-natured repulsion.  This was after an excellent tapas dinner in Williamsburg, and would be followed immediately by a bunch of people clearing the aisles in the subway car in order to do some flips and dance moves for us. It was the sort of night you picture people having in New York all the time, though the others assured me this was not the case.

I think I mentioned last post m’s harem–he’s friends with several interesting women. A and m asked me one night what my favorite thing about New York was, and I said “the people I’ve met.” J, who reminds me of a younger version of another j in my life, a poetry professor, wry and wise and brash. I was somewhat intimidated by her at first but we quickly bonded over our opinions about a certain popular teaching program.  D, from Israel, independent, strong-minded, complex, and yet surprisingly vulnerable and subject to the opinions of others. A, who is like an intensely precocious child, pragmatic but prone to indulge in quite whimsical logic, earnest in a way that seems untouched by the harsh realities of adulthood. The Germans: k and m, attractive in a very Teutonic way, incredibly friendly, polyamorous as well.

I had a few conversations with my new friends about the NY obsession with social status, with having the best partner and going to the good parties and having the right friends, how it never stops because there’s always someone just up the ladder from you. I talked to b, who we met before the Makeout Party, about how it all reminded me of the scene from James Herriot where Tristan loves feeding the pigs because they only eat any one thing for a few seconds before looking around to try and see what the others are enjoying so much, jostling to try and get the best.

The Makeout Party was hosted by one of m’s friends who is bringing Kinky Salon from the Bay to the Big Apple. Kinky Salon is a lifestyle party for poly and exhibitionist types which takes place in a sex-positive space.

(Sex-positive means accepting sex as a stimulating, pleasurable experience to be freely shared within reasonable boundaries and without inhibition or arbitrary boundaries. It means refusing to be burdened by all of the negativity and stigma this puritan nation likes to assign anything sensual. It means never “yucking someone else’s yums,” an adorable phrase I learned recently which means just because you don’t like anal beads doesn’t mean you have to act all icked out about someone else’s preferences.)

H and I had a tiff about the party, because first of all I told him about trying some cocaine and he got upset that I forgot we were going to try it for the first time together; second, the promise not to make out with m was going to be rather awkward to uphold at something called a make out party. I got very flustered because everyone was waiting for me and it was clear the conversation with h wasn’t going well; I ended up telling him “I won’t make out with m unless it would be making a scene not to,” and we hung up on uncertain terms.

The party was at this dimly lit bar with this recessed area you have to climb a ladder to get to. I wanted to spend the entire time in the little box room, and I could have, I suppose. I was there with m, a, the Germans, a rather famous makeup artist (who told me that Rosario Dawson is a burner, she’s been going for the last seven years apparently. I don’t see why not. I would certainly keep going if I were a celebrity, and I’m still fairly certain I saw Susan Sarandon the day of the temple burn.) And b, this super friendly chap from England, and some others. And we were playing spin the bottle, and people weren’t really drinking, and they weren’t really kissing, except b and I. m said he was going to do some molly with a, did I want some.

Next thing I knew, I was crawling past the Germans out of the box and down the ladder, trying to outrun the bile, and then I was crouching over the toilet, mildly paranoid that I might die in a New York club doing drugs with people I don’t know very well, and this was so close to this image I always had growing up of the kind of rock-bottom moment that finally gets the hardened sinners to repent that in my drug-loosened mind I entertained the possibility that Mormons are right. I mean I was still holding it at a distance but I was allowing for the possibility that it might be the Truth somehow, which entailed temporarily rearranging my entire way of looking at the world. I did this for long enough that I started to think I might fall down the rabbit hole again. I’m sure that writing that post about religion triggered it; I had to remember what it really felt like to believe in order to talk about it. In any case, it was scary as fuck. I’ve always tried to picture just what could get me so worked up on drugs that I can’t talk myself down (I’ve watched my face melt, I’ve seen the devil in Jerry Garcia’s eyes, I just don’t get scared when I’m tripping because…well…I’m tripping) and now I know: the fear that the Mormons might be right.

It can be extremely disorienting to think back on what I wanted then, what I thought I was then, compared with what I want and who I am now. There are fewer and fewer references points, it seems. Once upon a time, my beliefs were my identity, and now I’m something else. I remember that fear: if I change my views, what remains of myself? What integrity do I have?

To venture beyond your comfort zone or your beliefs is always to open Pandora’s box. I remember the moment I realized that to decide alcohol is okay to drink, I’m opening myself to the possibility I might someday become an alcoholic or marry an alcoholic. Bad things happen to good people, but there are specific kinds of bad things that mainly happen to people who operate outside of the law, and there are specific kinds of bad things that you can be pretty sure will never happen to you if you never take certain risks, like dying of a drug overdose, or, you know, having your chute not open.

When does the departure from rigid order become the descent into chaos? At one point I would have seen so many markers of my life now as signs of depravity, of signs that my values are askew, my integrity and my dignity left behind in the name of adventure and pleasure.

I suppose it is now my soft lines in the sand that I’m crossing (well, obviously, because the hard lines are the ones I still think I’ll never cross). But evermore I’m realizing that true empathy for another requires truly walking in their shoes. The less I fear “evil,” the wider my circle of compassion becomes. More on this later.

In any case: New York. I don’t think I could have asked for a better visit. It was filled with memorable moments and general pleasantness. Just to adventure with m for a bit longer was such a treat. He’s a complex man, and his approach to the world resonates with me on so many levels.

I got chills when he told me a story about something which happened to him as a boy, and has continued to happen since; or rather, something he did as a boy, though it’s accidental at times. He says there are certain lines of thought that send him there and he avoids them when he doesn’t want it to happen. It’s frightening, he says.

The way he tells it is much better, and I’ve asked him to transcribe it for me so I can share it with you, but in the meantime: It’s a sort of mental journey beyond ego, beyond a sense of self. When he goes there, he says, he does not remember being m, or being a person. He’s just an awareness amazed at its own existence. Sometimes it’s hard to come back from it. Once, it was a great, exhausting struggle to return to himself.

I asked him if these experiences make him less afraid of death, or reassure him that we exist beyond this form. He said no. What he experiences “outside” of himself is still manufactured by the chemicals inside of his brain.

It’s this sort of conundrum that draws me to him. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up, the way he paints the world for me sometimes, the way he shows me how many mysteries remain, how deep this universe really is, how complex and interrelated; but he has less confidence, it seems, about the way he fits into all of it, about how meaningful or lasting or important his part in it could be.

I’d be more convinced that he see himself as just a jaded little ant crawling on an ultimately insignificant tiny rock for a meaningless tiny moment, if he wasn’t so enthralled by magic.

We did meet at Costco, after all.

On Platonic Bedfellows

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect from my journey to New York. I couldn’t think of many contexts similar to this: my trip certainly wasn’t about a city and it wasn’t exactly a vacation. The man flying me out for a visit wasn’t romantically involved with me, and though I certainly considered him a dear friend, we hadn’t known each other that long. I wasn’t sure how my Burning Man Boyfriend and I would interact off-Playa, post-platonic friendship.

In addition, he was sponsoring the entire trip. Not only could I not afford to buy the ticket myself (going as I am through a career upheaval of sorts), I had only emergency cash, loaned to me by h, which I hoped not to spend.

So there I was trying not to feel weird about this man I only met a few months ago buying me a plane ticket to come visit him for a week, and it was going fine, until c was driving me to the train which would take me to the airport and I said something that made me blush and stumble over the next few sentences, made her pause long enough that I knew I’d have to address it eventually. She was making jokes about hiding in my suitcase, and I was joking about talking to m about how lovely she is, somehow getting her to New York as well, and I said, “I’ll just have to get a boob job or something next time.” It was one of those things that just slips out and glibly reveals everything you’re trying to repress.

It was enough to make me stop and ask myself again, on the train on the way to the airport–is my subconscious trying to tell me something? Am I sure I’m not using him?

Luckily, it wasn’t hard to come to the same answer I’d been coming to again and again: I would rather not go to New York at all than feel even remotely, or have m feel even remotely, that I’m using him. This isn’t about a vacation, this is about m.

At one point m had expressed concern that h not perceive him as some creepy older man trying to use some fancy trip to get in my pants (the thought seemed ludicrous to me–he’s a little over ten years my senior but never once has our age difference seemed very noticeable or meaningful to me, other than a certain world-weariness m sometimes adopts). So I wasn’t not the only one highly aware that the only framework our culture has for a visit of this nature is a sexual/materialistic exchange.

Time for new frameworks!

Later I texted c in appreciation that she hadn’t called me on it. I’m not using m for a trip any more than he likes me for my tits, but clearly those tropes are present in my mind. She said she knew that, it had caught her by surprise but she trusted that I would address it for myself (and for her) at some point.

As the city spread out beneath the plane, pins of light clustered tightly together, so many of them against the vast black of the land mass and the vast black of the sea, I got that Burning Man feeling again, that feeling of pride at humankind, like I built that city, like I own it just as much as any New Yorker, that they built that for me to enjoy, lucky me. Like, humans are awesome, lookatuslookhowawesomewearewebuiltthatshit!

As I thought about m waiting for me at the baggage claim, with or without the sign proclaiming “JOYCEBIRD” that he had joked about bringing, I was filled with warm affection. We had Skyped a few times, most recently a few days ago, and each time reaffirmed the pleasant nature of our relationship, our delight at each other’s insights and turns of phrase, our quiet way of teasing one another or self-deprecating.

He did not have a sign but of course I spotted him right away, dressed all in black, black skinny jeans, a black leather jacket, his dark bangs falling over his eyes giving him a slight air of adolescence, his smile a fleeting, smallish, but very important part of his face, waiting almost always just out of sight, waiting for me to give it an excuse to appear. I ran up to hug him and the smile lingered for several minutes, as we stared at each other a bit disbelievingly.

“So you are real,” he said.

He explained to me that he was a bit tired as he always is after a day of lectures, but we could go out if I liked. “We’re going to have to take a taxi,” he added apologetically.

I had a difficult time watching the scenery as we talked animatedly about plans for the week, about helpless students, about his favorite lectures to give, about his own history with the city.

We arrived at his building, situated directly across from a lovely park, and I took my first ride on one of the most terrifyingly decrepit elevators I’ve ever encountered. It was all very much what I might have pictured if I had taken the time; old buildings, sketchy lifts, taxis and small rooms. I deposited my things in the living room beside the futon, where they would stay for the duration, variously heaped, and looked around. On bookshelves: a mountain lion skull, a stack of top hats adorned with a pair of steampunk goggles. On the wall: a photo of a lonely farmhouse, skeletal branches of trees, special exposure to make it look aged and greenish and frankly quite creepy.

It could so easily, I thought to myself, be the apartment of a magician.

We didn’t stop for long, but set off for a cozy bar a few blocks away, with the same posh, low-lit vibe found in nearly every bar we went to throughout my stay. It had sort of a southern, or a western, or a south-western thing going on, with a very fancy cocktail menu from which I selected something made with rye whiskey and husk cherry syrup. It only occurred to me after this concoction was gone to order a Manhattan, a perennial favorite of mine and rather appropriate for the occasion.

I spent much of that first evening expounding on some of the difficulties between h and I of late, the way he would become frequently hurt over small imagined slights, how each missed cue became proof that I didn’t care about his feelings, how the things I did do went unnoticed or unappreciated. Over the last couple of weeks it had been increasingly hard for me to remember just what magic had drawn h and I together in the first place, and though we’d made up (and made up, and made up), one of our last interactions before I left was a huge fight.

I’d mentioned that my ex used to cover the Elvis song playing in the restaurant. He’d said, as he did every time I made the mistake of mentioning any of my exes in any context, “You sure talk about your exes a lot,” at which I’d just about lost my shit, seeing as earlier that week I’d gladly entertained and fed one of his exes when she came to him crying over her recent breakup. Seeing as another of his exes had, not very long ago, explicitly invited him to have sex with her (fully aware that he was in a monogamous relationship, so to speak, with two women she knew, and without asking either of us) and I had been fairly calm and magnanimous about the whole thing. “And you think it’s okay to fault me for mentioning mine?” I’d yelled. “Your exes are all around us!”

“I just don’t know why you talk about them so much,” he’d answered, maddeningly. It didn’t help that this happened to be a sentiment that c sometimes echoed. Poor girl was there that night, keeping a bit of distance, trying to support us without getting too involved; I hated that she was so often caught in the crossfire. Things had been getting easier and better for c and I, our only conflicts having to do with her inability to communicate her feelings for me as enthusiastically as she experienced them.

The real problem, of course, had nothing to do with exes and everything to do with h and I losing our trust in one another, in one another’s concern for our respective feelings.

In any case as I discussed this drunkenly with m, I wondered if I was communicating something I didn’t mean to, and then I wondered if I did mean it. It felt like things were drawing to a close with h. We were at each other’s throats way too often, especially for so early in our relationship. What if c and I just moved to New York? Would she come with me? Could we do such a thing to h?

It was a decision that I certainly wouldn’t make on this trip. I may have been wearying of our fights but I wasn’t done, not yet. Even so, for the rest of my visit I entertained vivid imaginings of myself walking these streets every day, joining the citywide love/hate affair with the unique and storied place. And during certain moments with m, I momentarily pictured again, as I had on the Playa, what it might be like to join him here, what our life together might be.

As we completed our respective nighttime routines, I spared us the awkward conversation of where I would sleep (on the Playa we’d spent two nights in his tent and one in Eagle’s Nest, side by side) by climbing into his bed. He said “all right then,” and thus continued our tradition of platonic bedfellowship.

I had told h that in the interest of his comfort, we wouldn’t kiss. Without discussing it further, m and I didn’t spoon or cuddle, either. If h and I had been getting along famously, if we’d agreed to polyamory, if m had never been a point of conflict or insecurity for h, I’m sure we would have slept together. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been a problem. I was aware of, and one night complicit in, m’s sexual relationships with at least two other women of his acquaintance (I met many of his female friends, all of whom impressed and delighted me in one way or another); we’re reasonably self-aware adults here, it would have been fine and likely quite enjoyable.

But ultimately, in polyamory as in more conventional relationships, the partner’s needs must come first. Though I would accidentally hurt h’s feelings at least twice more on this trip, there was never a thought in my head of sleeping with m while I was there. I’ve never cheated on a partner and I’m not about to start, regardless of my objective views on possessiveness vs. love, regardless of my ambivalence regarding the relative graveness of adultery.

In the morning, the sounds of the park across the street woke me: a mournful saxophone played by a street musician, the cries, chatter, and laughter of children and the creaking of swings and seesaws, dogs barking and taxis honking. It was the medley that would greet me each New York morning, and I never grew tired of it, though m promised that one holiday season hearing a daily sax rendition of Jingle Bells would make it all seem a great deal less romantic.